Ants are the most numerous insects on Earth. Scientists estimate that as many as 100,000 trillion ants live on Earth. There are more than 10,000 species of ants. Ants live on every continent on Earth except Antarctica.
Ants are among the strongest creatures on Earth. An ant can lift 50 times its own body weight. Ants are also among the fastest moving creatures on Earth; when an ant moves to catch its prey, its jaws can move at 140 miles per hour. Ants are highly social creatures; they live in highly organized colonies. One super ant colony found in Southern Europe in the year 2000 had more than 1 billion members and was 1,300 miles wide.
Ants are relatively long lived; they live much longer than most insects. Ants belonging to the species Pogonomyrmex Owyheei live to be 30 years old. Members of the ant family have lived on the Earth for a long time. The fossil record suggests that ants have lived on the Earth for 168 million years.
Like all insects, an ant’s body is divided into three main parts–the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. Ants have a hard, waterproof exoskeleton. Ants have six legs; all are attached to the thorax. Ants have eyes which can only detect light and shadow. Ants have long, jointed antenna which they use to recognize their nest mates and enemies. Ants have mandibles, a pair of appendages near their mouths which they use to grasp, crush, and cut food. Ants do not have lungs; they breathe through tiny holes all over their bodies.
Ants build elaborate homes or nests. An ant nest is a complex, sponge-like structure with parallel levels connected by a network of tunnels. Ants build nests without a leader; it is believed they use chemical signals to organize their activity one ant to another to another and so on. Ants are self-organizers. Commonly an colony consists of one or more egg-laying queens, numerous sterile female worker or soldier ants, and, seasonally, many winged sexual males and females.
Ants range in size from 0.030 to 2.0 inches (0.75 to 52 mm) long. Ants vary in color; most ants are red or black, but a few species are green and some tropical species have a metallic sheen.
Ants belong to the scientific family Formicidae and, along with wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera.